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Post-Hype Analysis: Matt Harrison

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Post Hype Analysis: Matt Harrison

Per reader request, here is a look at Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison. Harrison is off to an excellent start so far in 2011, 3-1, 1.88 in four starts, with a 19/9 K/BB in 29 innings and just 18 hits allowed. Is this sustainable?

Matt Harrison was a third round pick by the Atlanta Braves back in 2003, out of high school in Stem, North Carolina. He threw 87-92 MPH in high school and scouts felt there was more velocity possible if he could fill out his 6-4, 180 pound frame. He already had a good breaking ball and changeup considering his age. He performed well in rookie ball, with a 3.69 ERA and a 33/9 K/BB in 39 innings in the Gulf Coast League. I didn't put him in the 2004 book due to space reasons, but he would have rated as a "Grade C with higher potential" type prospect.

Moved up to Danville in the Appalachian League for 2004, Harrison went 4-4, 4.09 in 66 innings, with a 49/10 K/BB and 72 hits allowed. He threw strikes, but his K/IP and H/IP rates weren't impressive. He would still rank as a Grade C type at that stage.

Harrison's breakout occurred in 2005, when he went 12-7, 3.23 with a 118/30 K/BB in 167 innings for Low-A Rome in the Sally League, with 151 hits allowed. His fastball had dipped a bit since high school and was now in the 87-90 range, but his curveball and changeup were improving, he threw strikes, and showed an admirable ability to eat innings. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2006 book, writing that Harrison "is quite young and has considerable potential, but isn't a sure thing just yet."

2006 was split between High-A Myrtle Beach (3.10 ERA, 60/16 K/BB in 81 innings, 77 hits) and Double-A Mississippi (3.61 ERA, 54/17 K/BB in 77 innings, 83 hits). Scouting reports remained similar: upper-80s fastball (hitting 90-92 on his best days), mixing in an above-average curveball and above-average changeup, along with strong makeup and mound presence. I gave him a Grade B, writing that his lack of plus velocity kept him from elite status, but that he was still a solid prospect and could be a fine number three or four starter.

Harrison was bothered by a sore shoulder in 2007. He made 20 starts for Double-A Mississippi, with a 3.39 ERA and a 78/34 K/BB in 117 innings, 118 hits. He was traded to the Texas Rangers as part of the Mark Teixeira deal, but didn't pitch after the transaction due to the shoulder issue. He rehabbed and went to the Arizona Fall League, where he was spectacular, suddenly throwing 92-94 MPH with extra bite on his curveball. I was seduced by the velocity bump enough to give him a Grade B+ in the 2008 book, writing that he probably needed some Triple-A time, but that I was very optimistic about him.

As you know, Harrison has bounced between Triple-A and the majors for three years, hampered by inconsistency as well as some injury issues. His major league performance to date: 19-11, but with a 5.01 ERA and a 141/102 K/BB in 254 innings, 279 hits, ERA+89, FIP 5.00, xFIP 4.71, WAR 1.5.  Similar Pitchers through age 24: Brian Anderson, Jeff Francis, Eric Bell, John McMullin, Ed Linke, Dana Eveland, Arthur Rhodes, Rocky Coppinger, Adam Loewen, and Andrew Miller.

Obviously he hasn't lived up to the potential he showed in the minors yet, although his hot start in 2011 indicates that could be changing. His average fastball velocity is creeping up: 90.3 in 2008, 91.1 in 2009, 92.7 in 2010, and 92.9 this year. Fangraphs indicates that he's making greater use of his changeup this year and less use of his cutter, though with just four starts of data I don't know if that means a lot. His 1.88 ERA overstates his true level of effectiveness, at least if his 3.99 FIP and 3.85 xFIP are any indication.

But still, it's a good start, he is young enough for the improvement to be real, and the steady increase in his velocity over the last four seasons is quite intriguing.